Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Magic of Cybersecurity

Greetings from a panel on Cyber Security: Exposing the  THE magic involved in product evaluation, at the Australian Computer Society in Canberra. This is timely with Friday's Microsoft Windows/CloudStrike outage. The discussion so far is focused on the Australian Information Security Evaluation Program (AISEP). One topic of interest to me is that the Australian Signals Directorate is looking at training for security certifiers with other countries. Some of my uni students have been interns at companies carrying out government security checks.


The panel has:


Dr Hin Chan, Manager – Australian Certification Authority (ACA), Australian Cyber Security Centre, ASD

Erin Glenn, Director of Product Management, Belkin International, US

Patrick Campbell-Dunn, Securus Consulting Group 

Folding LED Screens for Temporary Classrooms


Greetings from Tech in Government 2024 in Canberra. The most interesting product on the exhibition floor is a folding LED screen on wheels from Viewsonic. This is designed to fit through an ordinary doorway and then he unfolded. The joins don't show at all when unfolded.

Monday, July 22, 2024

Welcome to the Next War: the AI Triple Black Box and Accountability

Professor Ashley Deeks
Greeting from "The Double Black Box: National Security, Artificial Intelligence, and the Struggle for Democratic Accountability" by Professor Ashley Deeks, University of Virginia. This is a public part of the conference "Anticipating the Future of War: AI, Automated Systems, and Resort-to-Force Decision Making" hosted by the Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs at the Australian National University. Professor Deeks' thesis is that defence AI is a block box both because even the programmers don't know what it is doing and if they did it would be secret. I suggest the situation is not that bad: it is possible to build AI systems which can be asked why they made a decision. But as the recent Microsoft/Crowdstrike failure shows, even non-AI systems can do surprising things. There is also cause concern, as Professor Deeks pointed out, due to the scale of use.

At a practical level it is not that difficult to test if an AI weapon is at least as reliable as a human operator. This could improve procedures by making explicit the decision making processes. There will be pressure to use advanced automated systems, just as there are for current simple ones, such as mines. 

Professor Deeks is presenting a US-centric view of the issues. However, the US is not a leader in development of AI weapons. Any country with a university having a computing school has the capability to make advanced AI weapons. Recently I was assessing a university student project for a small autonomous vehicle. This was for civilian purposes, but one version was tracked, and just needed a weapon added to be a robot tank.

The problem, I suggest, could be far harder than Professor Deeks suggests. The magic sauce for an AI weapon is in the software. The physical weapon can be upgraded over the air to have new capabilities. Some of this has been seen with missiles, where air launched missiles have been adapted for surface launch & surface for air. An example is the US Navy's SM-6 ship missile adapted for air launch against surface, air and space targets. Deciding of something is an anti-satellite weapon or not is a matter of software. 

Professor Deeks mentioned her paper "The judicial demand for explainable artificial intelligence" (2019) which argued for lawyers to get AI savvy. Some are thinking tech, such as Herbert Smith Freehills.

Saturday, July 20, 2024

Commenting on the Great Computer Outage of 2024

My phone started ringing on Friday afternoon. First it was the SciMex Science Media Center in Adelaide: could I talk to the media on the computer outage? What computer outage? I had been driving interstate and hadn't noticed many shop, airline, and other systems were down. What I had noticed were that both ABC Radio Sydney, & ABC Radio National were off the air (more correctly  broadcasting  apology loops, indicating the transmitters were okay but programs were getting to them).

At this stage the indication was it wasn't a cyber attack, and was not at the network level (my mobile phone still worked). It was the operating system. So I made a general comment to go out from SciMex to the media. At this stage the ABC had a report suggesting it was from the Crowdstrike security software

My phone then starting ringing. Sky new wanted to interview me, but their Zoom and phone interview facilities were not working (due to the it outage?), and it was not feasible to get to the studio. I talked to ABC Radio Queensland, who said they had one microphone and a CD player working. A little known fact is that if all the fancy automation fails in an ABC studio, one microphone is connected to the transmitter for emergency broadcasts. At the end of the interview I asked them to play "A Walk in the Black Forest" (the only track Radio Goodies had), but the joke went flat. 

One 24 hour TV news network wanted me to come to their studio across town because they could not do a Zoom or phone interview (presumably because the equipment for that used Microsoft Windows). I was tempted to suggest they hold the phone up to the camera.

I made the right call to say it was not a cyber attack, & resisted the temptation to criticize Microsoft Windows. Something I found surprising was the range of devices apparently running Microsoft Windows. Why would you use it for an airline or supermarket machine, rather than an operating system designed for real time embedded applications (such as one of the Linux variants)? 


See also (updates):

Friday, July 19, 2024

Chatbots for More Rounded Employable Graduates?

Greetings from the weekly ASCILITE MLSIG webinar. One of the members had a positive report on using Cogniti (developed at University of Sydney), to build chatbots to help students. With this, the software simulates a patient in conversation with the student acting as a therapist. The chat-bot then switches to tutor more and provides feedback and advice to the student. It occurred to me the same would be useful for students "soft" skills.

Many STEM students have difficulty with the part of the job where they have to talk to people, especially non-technical clients. This also creates problems when talking to potential employers. It may seem odd to suggest the students talk to a machine to imp[rove personal communication skills. However, this way students can get a lot of practice with an infinitely patient tutor. Also client and work communication is increasingly using digital technology. In a way reality s becoming more like the simulation: you apply for a job not by writing a letter but via a web form, do online tests & get interviewed via Zoom. The graduate will likely communicate with their client, and perhaps colleagues, mostly online. So talking to a chat-bot online will be a more realistic simulation of the workplace, than talking face to face in a classroom.

Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Thinking assessment in the large as an answer to AI

Greetings from the CRADLE Seminar "Assessment beyond the individual unit/module and AI". Associate Professor Jason Lodge is talking about how to see how students progress over time, rather than assessing in small packets of instruction. While he did not explicitly say it, I assume he envisions this makes it harder for the student to cheat, using AI, or otherwise, as they would not be showing consistent progress. 

Mentioned by someone was "Assessment reform for the age of artificial intelligence" (TEQSA, 2023). 

Margaret Bearman took us through the logic of current unit based assessment and asks about "big picture" outcomes. My reaction was "Inst that what capstones are for?". You have the student do a big project at the end of their study, where they have to demonstrate the skills needed. 

Surprisingly, there was little mention of AI, which is refreshing. The approach is to get the assessment right and cheating will be harder, however it is done.

I asked the panel:

'Will technology help? Could we give the AI each student's CV and have it suggest what degree requirements they have already met? I help out with applications for course credit and there is a lot of stuff students have done they really don't have to do again. More than once I have thought we should have the student teach the course. ;-)


The next seminar is: "Second Handbook of Academic Integrity (2024) launch".

Wednesday, July 10, 2024

CIT Timber High-rise Campus Going Up


Greetings from the Woden Town Centre in Canberra, where the timber frame of the new Canberra Institute of Technology is going up.

Digital Technologies education in Australian schools

The Australian Computer society has released "Tech skills for the next generation: Digital Technologies education in Australian schools". The report makes 11 recommendations, in 4 categories. Initial Teacher Education is the area where I suggest there is the most scope. Teachers could be trained using digital technology to effectively use it in their teaching and administration. Rather than this being seen as adding to the burden of teaching and administrative responsibilities teachers already have, digital technology could be a way to make their jobs easier.

Ensuring there are accessible ready-to-use teaching resources

1. Expand support for, and increase visibility of, the online Digital Technologies Hub to ensure teachers have access to best practice exemplar teaching modules for the DTC.

2. Improve schools’ internal information management processes regarding digital teaching resources to ensure they reach teachers who need them in the classroom.

3. Support cross-fertilisation amongst professional associations and communities of practice for the DTC.

Embedding digital-readiness training in Initial Teacher Education (ITE)

4. The Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) should incorporate into ITE accreditation a requirement that ITE programs demonstrate their capacity to prepare our future teachers to: 
• teach with digital technologies (as expected by AITSL standards)
• use digital technologies within all learning areas (including Digital Literacy development)
• teach the F–10 Digital Technologies subject and/or senior secondary computer education courses.

This could be supported through the Australian Technologies Teacher Educators Network (ATTEN) to provide end-user input from Digital Technologies teachers based in each state and territory.

Supporting ongoing professional development and training for teachers

5. Ensure that training courses suitable for teachers are available and accessible across all essential areas of digital technologies knowledge and skills.

6. Identify and promote existing recommended courses that provide training in software tools and core principles of digital technologies for teachers of all year levels.

7. Invest in initiatives that support teachers to attend suitable training for digital technologies skills and in turn this will increase the number of skilled teachers at each school.

Elevating awareness of the Digital Technologies Curriculum in the community

8. Empower parents with the tools and capabilities to understand and communicate at home the value of digital technologies, including the types of technology careers that can be pursued and how the skills can be applied to solve problems in a range of industries.

9. Ensure that tools and capabilities that empower parents are inclusive and increase visibility of underrepresented groups in STEM fields, such as women and girls and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.

10. Establish a national coordinated data collection of DTC learning outcomes, and communicate these outcomes to the community to build better understanding and awareness of learning and career outcomes.

11. Recognise and reward excellence in digital technologies education to increase visibility to parents and the education community and promote best practice-teaching in Australian schools.

Thursday, July 4, 2024

The Cafe and the Education Revolution

Greetings from the just opened TASA Cafe in the sport building at the Australian National University in Canberra. TASA adds Philippine cuisine to the selections on campus. I am having the pulled pork with coleslaw on a bun. More importantly, it is just across the road from my office in the school of computing. The campus cafes have an important role for informal discussions.

Already I have scheduled a meeting on exemptions and credit for recognition prior learning and experience, in the cafe. Granting students credit for what they did somewhere else is something academics are reluctant to do. This is partly out of a concern for standards, but also because it is not something part of academic training. Some of this is relatively simple: a course in discrete mathematics is much the same in Sydney or Shenzhen. However, soft skills are another matter: a course where students work in a team is not the same as one where they just read books about working in a team. Is work experience at a computer company in another country equivalent to Australia?

Wednesday, July 3, 2024

Innovation in Canberra



Greetings from the foyer of ACT Government HQ where they are hosting the 109th First Wednesday of Canberra Innovation Network. The ACT Chief Minister is doing the honours before the pitches.

ps: Interesting building.



High ceilings give low exam results

I suggest Bower, Broadbent, Coussens and Enticott receive an Ig Nobel Prize for their paper "Elevated ceiling heights reduce the cognitive performance of higher-education students during exams". The researchers found the higher the ceiling, the worse students do in exams. This is based on analysis of 15,400  exam results at three Australian campuses over eight years. At first I thought this an April fools day joke, but it seems to be real serious research. The work is deserving of an Ig Noble, recognizing research which has humor, but provokes thought. The key point of the research for me is not that high ceilings disadvantage some students, but that exams do. This can be corrected, I suggest, not by lowering ceilings, but by replacing exams with better assessment techniques.

The research comes at the time when exams should be on their way out. This is  like inventing a more efficient steam engine in the 21st century: an obsolete dangerous technology which no amount of technical improvement can save. Exams cause students stress (I have spent decades avoiding any course which had an exam). That a high ceiling might increase stress is interesting, but I doubt it could be lowered enough to make me comfortable with an exam. I stopped setting exams around the time I stopped giving lectures (2018).

The obvious factor which would cause the effect is the size of the room (bigger rooms having higher ceilings). However, the authors appear to have considered room size as a factor, and controlled for many other possible causes. One not mentioned might be that large rooms may have students from different classes taking tests at the same time, which could make students feel less comfortable.

If this is a real effect it could be easily corrected for by lowering the perceived height of the exam room ceiling. This could be done with lighting.

Reference

Bower, I. S., Broadbent, J., Coussens, S., & Enticott, P. G. (2024). Elevated ceiling heights reduce the cognitive performance of higher-education students during exams. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 102367. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvp.2024.102367

Friday, June 28, 2024

Impact of Digital Technology on Children Webinar 5 July

Dr. John Worthington,
Educational and Developmental Psychologist
 
Educational and Developmental Psychologist, Dr. John Worthington, will be speaking on "Discussions and Case studies of the Impact of Digital Technology on Children and Teenagers, a Clinicians Perspective" at the Mobile Learning Webinar of ASCILITE, 5 July 10:00 am (free, all welcome). For the Zoom participation details, see the ASCILITE website

MLSIG Webinar: Discussions and Case studies of the Impact of Digital Technology on Children and Teenagers, a Clinicians Perspective

Title: Discussions and Case studies of the Impact of Digital Technology on Children and Teenagers, a Clinicians Perspective

Speaker: Dr. John Worthington, Educational and Developmental Psychologist

Date: 10am, 5 July 2024 Via Zoom

Abstract: The three case studies drawn from clinical cases. While occasionally, the leading concern may be to do with the child’s use of or interaction with devices, typically the technology concern is a secondary, or even a non-issue until revealed by the history provided and or the assessment itself. Often, when the issue is exposed, the impact is not only on the child but can be wide ranging, and involve parents, siblings, peers, teachers, relatives etc.

About the speaker: Dr. John Worthington provides independent clinical, school and home based assessment and consultation services to support individuals aged 3 years through to adults. http://www.jweducation.com/

ps: Dr Worthington is my brother. 

Thursday, June 27, 2024

Canberra's Digital Creatives Like Lunch

Creative Connect Panel at CBRIN:
Lucy Sugerman, Elvis Gleeson,
Emma Laverty, & Owen Walter
Greetings from Canberra Innovation Network, where I am taking part in "Creative Connect", sponsored by the ACT Government. We were surveyed beforehand and it turns out the largest group are digital creatives (which I guess I am) and we like meeting over lunch (CBRIN have put on a good spread). We have a panel with Lucy Sugerman (Music ACT), Elvis Gleeson (Blank Creative),  Emma Laverty (Project Dust), and Owen Walter (Oculo Digital). So we have a musician, writer, dancer, and video maker. This was a revelation, as most people think of Canberra as a place for public servants, and government contractors. I knew we also have a large education sector, but hadn't realized there was also a "creative" industry. Some of that supports education and government. One of the panel talked about getting paid to make "Beats to sound-cloud rappers". From this limited sample creatives don't fit the pattern of university fine arts degree and then work. 

The question for me is what can Canberra do to help this industry? One surprising answer is "Be a nice place to live". I had assumed creatives would want a grungy inner city squat, but apparently the novelty of that wears off quickly. Another answer was that it is a place you go when your partner gets a job in Canberra.

Wednesday, June 26, 2024

What is on in Adelaide in late August?

iAward to ANU Techlauncher
What is on in Adelaide, 28 to 30 August 2024? I will be attending the 2024 National iAwards on 29 August, as on of the teaching team fior the Australian National University's Techlauncher Project which is in the running. Are there any computer or education events on, while I am in town? I would be happy to give a talk, if someone has a venue. My next scheduled speaking engagement is on academic integrity in assessment.

Thursday, June 20, 2024

Conjecture or Inference in AI Decision-Making

Assistant Professor Luke Stark,
from Western University (Canada)
Greetings from ANU school of Computing where Assistant Professor Luke Stark from Western University (Canada) is speaking on "Conjecture and the Right to Reasonable Inference in AI/ML Decision-Making". Professor Stark argues that AI follows a long standing human practice of conjecture. This is different to the scientific process of deduction. I don't find this a convincing argument as testing hypotheses is a conjectural process. 

More interestingly Professor Stark compared attempts in past centuries to correlate facial shape with behavioral characteristics to current AI work which is similarly misapplied. He suggested there are open questions on how inference should be applied. Also Professor Stark suggested AI could learn a lot from medicine and the discussion around the applicability of evidence based treatment. On the surface it seems obvious that medical treatment should be based on evidence from trials, but if the people conducting the trails are not like the patients, then the results may not be applicable. 

Professor Stark's analysis seemed a little idealistic, in that it assumes users of AI (and previous technology) were driven by a quest for the truth and equity. However, researchers repeatedly produce AI systems, which discriminate against particular groups. Rather than see this as an unfortunate side-effect of the technology, I suggest it be acknowledged as one of the main uses of AI, and measures to minimize it be put in place.

Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Government Keynote: RAAF's journey with Agile methodologies Wing Commander Mike Moroney, AI Lead for the Royal Australian Air Force

Wing Commander Moroney,
RAAF AI Lead
Greetings from the Hyatt Hotel in Canberra, where Wing Commander Mike Moroney, AI Lead for the Royal Australian Air Force, is speaking on "RAAF's journey with Agile methodologies". He pointed out that crew-less aircraft are being experimented with having AI onboard. Curiously he mentioned US based projects, not the Boeing MQ-28 Ghost Bat, being built in Queensland. 

Wing Commander Moroney said he never finished "The Phoenix Project" (BY GENE KIM, KEVIN BEHR, GEORGE SPAFFORD), about DevOps, as it was "too triggering", but "The DevOps Handbook" (BY GENE KIM, JEZ HUMBLE, PATRICK DEBOIS, JOHN WILLIS, NICOLE FORSGREN) is okay. Also he recommended Accelerate (BY NICOLE FORSGREN, JEZ HUMBLE, GENE KIM).


Securing Government Data Used with AI a Jobs Growth Area

Jayden Cooke, ASD on 
Secure by Design
Greetings from the Hyatt Hotel in Canberra, where Jayden Cooke, Technical Director, Secure Design and Architecture | Cyber Uplift | Cyber Security Resilience, Australian Signals Directorate (ASD), is speaking on "Secure by Design and Default" (SbD2). This is a keynote presentation at a GitLab event organised by Public Sector Network. ASD not only has a website on Secure by Design, but also detailed documents on how to do it.

This was a refreshing change from the proceeding GitLab sales pitches. It was still a sales pitch, especially with claims of by in from "Five Eyes" partners. The idea is a reasonably simple one: rather than build software and then think about how to make it secure, instead think about security from the start. This requires a systematic approach which ASD has been attempting to have universities teach to their students. At present there is a golden opportunity for this. A few months ago we asked computer project students participating in the award winning ANU Techlauncher Project to write a couple of sentences about what they see as their future career. Many nominated AI, and other cyber security. The intersection (or collision) of the two I suggest will be an area of demand for staff as AI security flaws come to light. 

Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Project proposals needed for computer student teams


For several years I have been one of a large team teaching project management to computer students. The ANU Techlauncher Program continues to gain in popularity, and we are in need of more projects for more students due to start their studies in the next few weeks. The project can be something from a small business, startup, large corporation, government agency, or a not-for-profit. You might have a glimer of an idea, and want a prototype to see if it makes sense, or something well specified, and just needs doing. In the past I have tutored students building software to test hydroelectric generators which keep the lights on in much of Australia, while others helped develop an anti-ballistic missile radar which protects Australian warships. At the other end of the scale, a team produced an app for a health professional, to help their patients with a fear of flying.

Time to shake up the Insurance Industry

Greetings from Canberra Innovation Network where Emily-Rose Srbinovska & Stuart Russell from Austbrokers Canberra are talking on insurance for startups. This dry sounding topic is being made exciting by the passion of the presenters. As they point out startups are seen as high risk by insurers resulting in higher premiums. It seems to me there is scope for more startups to offer innovative insurance to startups. Also keep in mind that if you join your professional body you may get a legal liability cap, so cheaper insurance.

Thursday, June 13, 2024

Grammarly’s Generative AI Writing Assistant Creates Questions for Teachers

Grammarly have introduced a generative AI Writing Assistant as an option for its popular grammar checking program. I have been a fan of grammar correcting tools for decades. Without them, or a human editor, I can't get work published. I recommend them to my students, but Grammarly's AI tool needs to be treated with caution, as casual use could be a career ending.

The tool is available even with the free version of Grammarly. You need to opt in to use it. By default it is I set it to formal, direct, Australian English, by an IT professional. 

Here is the text I gave Grammerly:

'Dr Ryan Young at the ANU National Security College Futures Hub, has prepared "Future Disruptions for Australian Universities" for the Universities Accord Review Panel. The Futures Hub's logo is, appropriately enough a black swan. The accord panel has been advising the Australian Government on the future of higher education...'

Here is how it made the text "sound academic":

'Dr. Ryan Young, from the ANU National Security College Futures Hub, has prepared authored a document titled "Future Disruptions for Australian Universities" for the Universities Accord Review Panel. The Futures Hub's logo emblem, appropriately enough a black swan, seems fitting for their work. The accord panel, has been advising responsible for guiding the Australian Government on the future of higher education's future, ...'

Grammerly has mostly just improved my sentence structure and used more academic sounding words. But the meaning has been changed in a few places for example I wrote "I find older students are easier to teach" to "teaching older students is reported to be more straightforward", thus attributing my comment to the authors of the report. Such mis-attributions could be serious in a student assignment, or a published paper. 

I have become so comfortable with grammar checkers that I accept their recommendations without checking closely. This could be a career ending move with the Generative AI option in Garmmerly. I suggest warning your students, and colleagues, to treat this function with the caution they would a standalone generative AI tool: something to be used to generate ideas, with every detail checked to be right, before being used.

ANU Techlauncher Project Wins IT Industry Award for Education

iAward to ANU Techlauncher
The Australian National University's Techlauncher Project received a merit award in the ACT round of the Australian Information Industry (AIIA) 2024 iAwards. I am honored to be part of the team, which provides work integrated learning for computer students, through projects with real clients. We are now in the running for the national award in Adelaide in August.

Sunday, June 9, 2024

Further Disruptions for Australian Universities

Future Disruptions for
Australian Universities Report
Dr Ryan Young at the ANU National Security College Futures Hub, has prepared "Future Disruptions for Australian Universities" for the Universities Accord Review Panel. The Futures Hub's logo is, appropriately enough a black swan. The accord panel has been advising the Australian Government on the future of higher education. This report aims to inform the panel on future factors effecting universities. These include the obvious, such as generative AI and digital technologies in general, competition from non-university bodies for research and teaching money, and geo-political tension causing government to micro-manage university (my term not the author). Also the report looks at changes in the demographics of students, with fewer students overall, and more older (not all bad news as I find older students are easier to teach).

Most of the disruptions discussed are hardly Black Swan unanticipated events, and most and already being addressed by university with gradual evolution, rather than sudden disruption. Geographically dispersed work-forces were catered to in the past by distance education, which has been made much easier in the last few decades using the Internet. AI has been developed over decades, and those of us in the tech sector have received briefings over the years on its progress, before Chat GPT came to public attention.

As the report suggests, the world may be moving to a period of ‘poly-crisis’, with multiple global and regional events to deal with. However, the world has only been relatively crisis free for a small wealthy, mostly western, section of the population. The rest of the world, including academics, have had to learn to cope with an uncertain world. Australia's universities, despite some challenges, will still be in a relatively privileged position, with more and more stable funding, benign security situation, and stable governments. That will continue to provide a competitive advantage against institutions located in countries with unstable repressive regimes, where their campuses are threatened by terrorists, their own or neighboring military.

A military confrontation in the region, involving Australia, might result in the sudden loss of almost all international students. In 2016 I presented students of computing ethics with a hypothetical on cyber-war over a confrontationa. Later in the year I suggested Australian universities should be ready to switch to online learning, if their international students were unable to get to campus due to regional tensions. Unfortunately this remains a possibility, and so universities should keep online options ready for teaching domestic and international students together

As well as the effects of a physical military confrontation universities need to respond to online attacks. As well as attempts from criminals and nation states to steal intellectual property, there is a risk to personal information which could be used against staff, students, their families and organisations. The internet may also be used to ferment unrest at universities. 

The author suggests there are opportunities for universities in these challenges. One example not mentioned in the report was the COVID-19 pandemic, which allowed universities to move from a lecture based model of learning to a blended one. The report points out that universities bundle and cross subsidize cross-subsidise activities. However, this is not by accident, with governments requiring universities to be multi-purpose, multi-discipline, and forcing institutions to seek external funding. 

The author suggests disruption could come from how teaching and research are provided. However the effect of technology has been over-promised in the past, and Australia has an unfortunate track record with private for-profit educational institutions in the vocational sector. An area which the report mentions, but seems least important is changes to university campuses. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, most students did not attend lectures. The change brought on by the pandemic was the elite universities and academics, were forced to admit this change had happened, and officially made the changes which regional universities, and vocation education had already made.

The report suggests digital technology and AI might make universities obsolete. I suggest this is unlikely, as despite their traditional image universities have fostered and embraced such changes in the past. It is more than 50 years since Open University UK started offering technology enhanced education (using some techniques learned from Australia). Australia currently has one for-profit foreign owned university, which is experienced in online education, but has not presented a significant threat to existing non-profit private and public institutions.

Australia has a dual sector system, with university alongside vocational institutions. There are considerably more private companies in the vocational sector. Australia has a competitive advantage with its close regulation of both sectors. The greatest risk, I suggest, is governments suddenly deciding to deregulate post-secondary education, using a flawed model of education imported from the USA. But not all government changes are negative. The funding of study hubs, first in regional areas, and now expanded to outer metropolitan areas is a useful innovation.

One form of disruption for universities could be from the disintegration of degree qualifications into something more like the process used in the vocational sector. Universality students typically enroll in a two to four year university degree. The institution can then plan for this student, minus dropouts, over those years. Vocational students build a qualification from a series of shorter qualifications, and go through a recognition of prior learning process for each. As a result the student may spend only a small amount of time enrolled, and this, along with fees and resource use, may be intermittent.

As vocational modules are nationally standardized, students can easily move from institution to institution, receiving full credit for prior study. In contrast university students face difficulty, and loss of credit due to non standard courses. External bodies, such as  the Australian Computer Society have developed micro-credentials which offer industry recognition of skills alongside the university system (I am on the board which oversees the standards for micro-credentials). Universities have attempted to create their own micro-credential systems, mostly by converting individual courses or groups of courses into a micro-credential. However, this then creates the expectation among students that larger formal qualification will be built from the micro-credentials in a modular way. The Singapore Institute of Technology has announced competency based, stacked short qualifications, with work integrated learning, and project capstones.

As well as making planning of resources and funding more difficult, new forms of education require new skills of those teaching. Australian law does not currently permit specialized teaching universities. All universities must undertake research in multiple disciplines. Also, in the public's mind, the quality of university education is erroneously linked to research output. As a result universities hire academics based on research output, then require these staff to teach. When teaching consisted of giving lectures and setting exams, this could be done with minimal teacher training. However, experiential and workplace learning, with complex stacked course structures, authentic assessment and blended delivery require advanced teaching skills. This creates a challenge for universities, as well as new non-university educational institutions which can leverage the expertise of the vocational sector. 

The need for government intervention is illustrated, I suggest, by the lack of university funded study hubs in regional areas. Some universities opened their own study centers (such as UWA Albany), but these were exclusively for their own students. The savings from sharing facilities were rejected by universities wanting to compete for students. One area of cooperation for Australian universities has been Open Universities Australia, where many institutions, including regional and city based elite institutions, offer online courses. The government could put in place policies and funding for more such cooperation, to assist domestic students in regional areas, and also in competing for international students.

Thursday, June 6, 2024

Free Online Course on Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation in the Indian Ocean Region

The Australian National University is offering an online course on "Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation", for the Indian Ocean Region, commencing 29 July 2024. This is funded by the Australian Government and is free for professionals in Bangladesh, the Comoros, France, India, Indonesia, Iran, Kenya, Madagascar, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritius, Mozambique, Oman, Seychelles, Singapore, Somalia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Thailand, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. Students are guided in the development of an develop an Adaptation Action Plan (AAP).

Will the Military Trust AI on the Battlefield?

Greetings from the council room* of the Australian National University in Canberra for "Battlefield Trust for Human-Machine Teaming: Evidence from the US Military" by Lieutenant Colonel Dr Paul Lushenko. The question he is investigating is if military personnel will trust AI. One obvious and reassuring finding is personnel trust lethal AI less. He pointed out that personnel can influence what gets implemented by being part of testing and commissioning equipment. 

Dr Lushenko did not find much research on trust of AI, apart from ground personnel directing crewed versus uncrewed airstrikes. It occurs to me that issues of trusting AI would be much the same as for allied forces. 

Dr Lushenko conducted a survey of US military personnel and found they were most comfortable with non-lethal AI. They would trust lethal AI more if it provided protection for their own troops.

I suggested to Dr Lushenko it might be interesting to compare the views of military personnel to civilians in non-military agencies which are authorized to use lethal force.

After it occurred to me that a Turing test could be used to see if military personnel can tell if they are interacting with humans, or AI. In many cases personnel now interact using a text and data interface, with no voice. It would be possible to run a test in a simulator or on a range, where the human might be communicating with a human or a machine. This would be relatively simple to set up, as simulators often use synthetic elements, but which usually have very limited intelligence.

* The ANU Mills Room reminds me of the war room in Dr Strangelove, which is disturbingly appropriate for the topic.




Wednesday, June 5, 2024

CIT New Campus at First Wednesday

Rikkii Norris, CIT CEO
Greetings from Canberra Institute of Technology (CIT) catering school where Rikkii Norris  is pitching the new CIT Woden Campus. This will be a far cry from the old rooms I studied video production here on the Reid Campus. CIT are hosting June First Wednesday, so there are several CIT pitches, including fir the new EV Center of Excellence. It is assumed that Canberra is just about government work, but there are significant tech related industries in Canberra, underpinned by educational institutions. 

Tuesday, June 4, 2024

Reducing consumption by making Minimalism Cool

Sarah Boddington and Rebecca Blackburn at ANU
Greetings from "Addressing climate change by reducing consumption and phasing out gas cooktops" by Sarah Boddington and Rebecca Blackburn at the Australian National University in Canberra. 

Rebecca has researched minimalists. This is a philosophy and lifestyle of owning less and less disposable items. Those surveyed wanted smaller homes, and put surplus items back in circulation. Environmental benefits were not the most important for minimalists. 

It would be tempting to evangelize minimalism for environmental reasons, but would it work? Would enough be able to adopt this behavior to be worth the effort?

Sarah is researching consumers decisions to switch from gas to an electric cooktop. Will environmental concerns and government incentives overcome social practices which see gas as better. She pointed out that new appliances brought new practices, such as the fridge making cooking in batches common.

One surprise is consumers see an efficient electric cooktop as part of installing solar panels. However they didn't realize ACT government loans are for appliances as well as panels. This could be an opportunity for companies offering solar and appliance packages. One financial benefit rarely mentioned is disconnecting gas save the supply fee.

Sunday, June 2, 2024

Misunderstanding What Success Is

Dr Anish Purkayastha,
USyd
Purkayastha and Huber investigated what makes undergraduate management students successful at an Australian university (paper 2023, & article 2024).  They found students of tutors with a PhD, older students and those with higher previous grades do better. However, I am not sure I agree with the author's assertion that higher grades are a measure of "success".

The authors found that domestic students of tutors with a PhD were more likely to receive a Distinction grade. However, a high grade does not assist a student in meeting the minimum required to get their degree, and is a waste of effort for the typical student.

This effect, where a PhD graduate tends to help a few students get higher grades, whereas tutors who have been trained to teach tend to help struggling students pass, has been found in previous studies.

Reference

Purkayastha, A., & Huber, E. (2023). What factors contribute to higher grades in a first-year undergraduate management unit: an exploratory study at an Australian university. Higher Education Research & Development43(3), 735–752. https://doi.org/10.1080/07294360.2023.2258818

Friday, May 31, 2024

Australian Regional University Study Hubs

Map of Regional University Study Hubs,
from Department of Education, 2024
The UK Open University found more than 50 years ago that distance students formed their own local study groups. The Australian Government is funding Regional University Study Hubs, which any Australian university student can use. Suburban University Study Hubs are being added to the program for disadvantaged students in outer metropolitan areas. Some metropolitan universities, such as UWA, already had satellite campuses, which are only for use by their students, and are continuing to operate alongside the study hubs (the UWA Albany Center is only a few blocks from the Albany Study Hub). 

As soon as I became an online student, I had an overwhelming urge to attend class. This was a surprise, as I was a practitioner of online learning, as well as a mature, postgraduate student. It was not so much for face to face tuition by a teacher, but to talk to other students. Unfortunately, I couldn't find anyone else studying at the same universities nearby, so I attended workshops and seminars at the local university for students, and staff, of the same discipline. In this I had an advantage of being on the staff of one of the universities, so having access the average student does not. In one case I convened my own interest group at the offices of my professional body.


Thursday, May 30, 2024

Bougainville Peace Agreement

Kevin Pullen presenting
Greetings from the Australian National University in Canberra, where Kevin Pullen is presenting an update of his research on the Bougainville Peace Agreement. This is an example of the valuable role universities play in soft power of a nation. A detailed knowledge of how a dispute in our region can be resolved peacefully is worth a fleet of warships.  Keven's work can inform efforts to defuse tension elsewhere in the Indo-Pacific.

I look forward to reading Kevin's thesis. The Bougainville story would make an exciting action movie, with the involvement of mercenaries with Russian helicopter gunships, a threatened coup, and many political machinations.

Australia is currently part of an arms race in the region, with nations acquiring submarines, aircraft carriers, missiles and drones. However another way to secure Peace is to help nations in our region to be stable and prosperous.

Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Researching Floods with AI

Dr Yossi Matias, 
Head of Google Research 
Greetings from the Australian National University in Canberra where Yossi Matias,  Head of Google Research is visiting to talk about their work. 

One example is Google's flood and fire information for the public. I first came on Google's work in this area 10 years at an unconference at ANU. I had helped with an emergency management system so was bemused when someone I took to be a school student got up and talked about emergency management. It turned out they were a Google engineer with extensive experience.

Saturday, May 25, 2024

Aligning Computer Professional Skills With the Nation's Needs

Greetings from the Australian Computer Society (ACS), Canberra Branch Hub, where I am taking part in an ACS Professional Standards Board meeting. ACS sets the standards for the education of computer professionals in Australia, and in conjunction with sister societies, world wide. In the usual bureaucratic processes of being on any committee, it is easy to forget how important the work is. We need to ensure what Australian universities and vocational institutions teach is what industry needs, and aligns with international standards. We also need to ensure that working professionals can keep up with developments in the industry, either individually or through their employer. All of this has to be acceptable to Australian governments, and industry. 

Being professionals, we first try to find an existing standard, but often have to enhance, or on occasion, write the standard from scratch. Not surprisingly new technology requires new skills of computer professionals, such as blockchain, and quantum computing. These are relatively easy to address. More surprising, and much harder, are soft skills, such as emotional intelligence. How do we define these, help professionals get them, and perhaps hardest, convince people they need them. Recently an assessment question I wrote for students was criticized by one of my colleagues as not being "academic", because it concerned soft skills. I look forward to being able to say "We are required to teach and test these professional skills".

The work of the board on skills standards goes all the way from high level definitions, down to how to document this, using digital badges, in electronic portfolios. This may all sound very esoteric, but it can result in someone being hired for a job much more quickly, a company getting a contract, a nation increasing productivity, and citizens being safer.

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Black Duck With Robots?

Greetings from the Australian National University in Canberra where Bruce Pascoe and Lyn Harwood are talking about their new book "Black Duck". Best known for "Dark Emu", this is a personal memoir of that experience, life and traditional farming. This is part of the ANU/The Canberra Times Meet the Author series

This is a very personal story of Australia, rediscovering achient knowledge of land management. One point emphasized was how labor intensive practices such as pulling out wattle saplings by hand after fire is. Perhaps, I suggest this can be combined with new technologies, such as robot gardeners.

PS: A few days ago I was in a Sydney bookstore looking for Black Duck for a friend. I didn't know a few days later I would be on a room with the authors, in an event run by Colin Steele. This is after discussing a talk on quantum computing I have been asked to give in Singapore. Before that I agreed to write procedures to assess prior experience of students and teach social media skills to academics. That is the nature of higher education.


Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Nurturing an Academic Community Online

Much as been written about how the Internet is undermining scholarship, and isolating us, but it can also be a way to bring people with common interests together, especially when isolate physically. When COVID-19 struck in early 2020, I found myself physically cut off from colleagues. One thing I did was join the Mobile Learning Special Interest Group (MLSIG) of the Australasian Society for Computers in Learning in Tertiary Education (ASCILITE). That proved useful in overcoming isolation, and productive, in writing conference papers, and giving presentations with members of the group. It was not for three years that I actually met any of the members of the SIG, face to face, when I attended an ASCILITE conference face to face. How the groups works is now published in an open access paper, from some of the members.

Reference

Narayan, V., Cochrane, T., Stretton, T., Chanane, N., Alizadeh, M., Birt, J., … Vanderburg, R. (2024). A model for nurturing a networked academic community: #ASCILITEMLSIG mobile learning special interest group. International Journal for Academic Development, 1–16. https://doi.org/10.1080/1360144X.2024.2349930

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Digital Concierges for Recruiting

Greetings from the Australian National University where Techlauncher students in "The Hive" are exploring possible future careers. They are hearing from Bryce Undy on how his company Grow Right Digital provides AI for analysis of job applications. He cautioned students not to leave generative AI to write their CV, as this may make claims they can't support. He claimed AI could be used to remove implicit and explicit bias, for example summarizing what qualifications the student has, while removing details of gender, and what school was attended. The students are learning about future careers under the guidance of ANU Careers & Employability.

Sunday, May 12, 2024

Australia’s International Education and Skills Strategic Framework


The Australian Department of Education has released a 41 page draft "Australia’s InternationalEducation and SkillsStrategic Framework" for consultation (10 May 2024). The report has an odd mix of conflicting objectives, based on false premises. There is nothing wrong with the Australian Government setting targets to meet national priorities. This could be to maximize student fees, meet national skills needs, or to aid regional development. However, measures to do any one of these will work against the other two.

The report makes the claim several times that integrity issues are due to "unmanaged growth" (pages 5, & 15), rather than the obvious failure of government regulation. Also it blames international students for a housing shortage, rather than successive Australian governments failure to invest in public housing. However, the major problem with the report is that it doesn't seriously address the need to offer online education, and broaden the countries Australia draws students from. I suggest the way to broaden the market is with online education (Worthington, 2018). Also the report does not mention the threat, and opportunity, of Artificial Intelligence, at all. This is surprising, as it is not possible to attend an education forum at present, without AI dominating the discussion (I will be talking about it at EduTech Asia 2024).

The report envisages international students providing a trained workforce for Australian industry, as well as assisting economic development of the countries the students are from, and also strengthening ties with those countries. In the past these separate and conflicting objectives were supported by individual, separately funded and administered programs. This report does not acknowledge, let alone attempt to resolve, these competing mutually exclusive goals for international education.

The report highlights some of the measures previously introduced to address flaws in the system. However, it fails to acknowledge how the ad-hoc nature of the measures, where the Australian government went from under to over regulation, harmed students, and the reputation of the Australian high education system. As an example, in 2023, the Australian Government restricted students ability to switch education providers. This was done to address a practice where students would switch providers after arriving, to facilitate work, rather than study. Had effective measures been in place, this ad-hoc measure would not have been needed.

Previously the Australian Government introduced domestic student loans for Vocational Education and Training. This was followed by scamming of the system by unscrupulous providers. The Government seems to have not anticipated this, and took years to respond, resulting in hardship for students, and a loss of a large amount of public funds. It is surprising that government would repeat this experience, being caught unawares, repeatedly, by sharp practices by international training providers, and student agents. Assuming that organisations which can obtain large amounts of government money will act honestly, being surprised when they don't, then overreacting with restrictive regulations, doesn't make for a well ordered international education system.

To add to the conflicting aims in the report, it attempts to promote regional Australia, through international education (page 21). As the report notes international students are concentrated in metropolitan areas, particularly capital cities. However, this is also where domestic students prefer to study. Regional Australia might provide students students with "unique experiences", but these are ones they, domestic and international, don't want to have. Forcing students to study at regional campuses would be good for the local economy, but what incentives would be required for students to study where they do not want to? The report suggests promotion of sustainable energy jobs in regional Australia, but that is likely to have regional appeal.

An option not mentioned is to use regional campuses as part of the growth of non-capital Australian cities. As an example, the NSW government is considering high speed rail options from Sydney to Newcastle. Newcastle already offers an attractive location for students, with its beaches, and fast access to Sydney would make this a much better offering. One option would be a battery powered high speed rail line from Newcastle to Canberra, via Sydney and Woolongong, with trains recharging via overheard catenary while decelerating and accelerating for each station.

References
T. Worthington, "Blended Learning for the Indo-Pacific," 2018 IEEE International Conference on Teaching, Assessment, and Learning for Engineering (TALE), Wollongong, Australia, 2018, pp. 861-865. doi: 10.1109/TALE.2018.8615183 URL https://doi.org/10.1109/TALE.2018.8615183


Thursday, May 9, 2024

Generative AI to Boost Productivity?

Justin Hutchings, GitHub 
Greetings from Microsoft's Canberra office where I am attending a glitzy GitHub presentation. The bold claim made was that Copilot, Microsoft's implementation of ChatGPT, could end the computer productivity paradox. 

The paradox is that computers have not increased office productivity. We were invited to photograph the slide of claimed productivity increases. However, I can recall claims made decades ago for 4GL languages, not far from where we are, which would allow programs to write themselves. In practice they allowed amateurs to get into a mess. The current attempt is not like that, with tools for professionals. However, these tools only do the easy bits.

Some of the features demonstrated could be useful for teaching computing. In particular implementing rules about what code libraries can be used and what coding practices must be followed. The billing features might also be used for student hurdles, the idea being that to pass the course the student must put in a set amount of work (the quality of the work would determine their grade).

ps: At question time someone asked about legacy code. I guess we need Copilot COBOL. ;-)

pps: It is a long time since I have been in a corporate environment, and find sales pitches excruciating. One yesterday from a plagiarism detector company was particularly bad. But this Microsoft event today is okay.

Wednesday, May 8, 2024

Academic integrity through digital proctoring of assessment at EduTech Asia in Singapore in November

Looking forward to speaking on a panel on "Safety check: maintaining academic integrity through digital proctoring in assessments" in Singapore, at EDUtech Asia 2024, 7 November, 11am, Stage 4, with Girija Veerappan, & Mohd Rozi Ismail. I have lost count how many EduTechs I have been to. ;-)


ps: Edutech Asia 2024 asked me to make a video to invite you to my talk.

Tuesday, May 7, 2024

Australian Universities Need to be Ready with an Online Learning Option

NUS  eLearning Week Video, 2014
NUS eLearning Week Video, 2014

This is to suggest Australian universities test they have an online learning option ready for use in an emergency. There is no specific threat at this at this time, but it would be prudent to be ready. Two developing situations are Avian influenza being tracked by the World Health Organisation, and military tension in the Yellow Sea.

Universities were forced to implement adhoc online teaching in 2020, due to the SARS-COVID-2 virus. This was ad-hoc, because university academics and administrators failed to learn from the experience of universities in our region, which a decade before were shut down due to the SARS-COVID-1 (Chandran, 2010). After that experience some Singapore campuses implemented annual e-learning emergency drills. Unfortunately the experience with COVID-2 at Australian campuses is now fading from memory, without the staff training, and procedures, in place.

A natural disaster could close down a campus at any time. A disease outbreak could happen without warning. Regional tensions could cause international students to leave Australian within days, as well as forcing all Australian staff to evacuate overseas campuses.

References

Chandran, R. (2010, May). National University of Singapore's Campus-Wide ELearning Week. In Global Learn (pp. 2062-3302). Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE). URL https://cpb-us-w2.wpmucdn.com/blog.nus.edu.sg/dist/0/119/files/2011/03/national-university-of-singapores-campus-wide-elearning-week.pdf